Native American Leader: 'A Wall Is Not The Answer' Verlon Jose, vice chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, says President Trump's proposed border wall would cut through the reservation, with negative impacts.

Native American Leader: 'A Wall Is Not The Answer'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


A Native American tribe whose land extends along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border says President Trump's proposed border wall would devastate its community. The Tohono O'odham Nation says it has 34,000 enrolled members. Some live on tribal lands in southwestern Arizona. Some live in Mexico. While they already have to contend with some barriers that tear apart their nation, they say a wall would be different.

VERLON JOSE: It would be as I, say, if I walked into your home and felt that your home was not safe, but I want to build a wall right smack in the middle of your home. And let me divide your family. And in order for go from one end of your house to the other, you would have to go through me.

GREENE: That's Verlon Jose. He's the vice chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Now, there's this. He opposes building a wall, but Jose says he also understands firsthand why it's important to deter migrants from crossing that border illegally.

JOSE: We have a ranch a few miles just north of the international border, and they come by the ranch way too often. There's been a decrease over the years, but they still come by. And if we're not there - my cousin, who takes care of the ranch - they'll break in and help themselves to food and water. Or if we're there, they get water, they go on their way.

GREENE: And how do you feel about that?

JOSE: Well, Tohono O'odham, we've always been hospitable people, even with the first European contact. So that's just our thing. Nowadays, a lot of drugs are being involved and so forth. They seem to just want to go in and destroy your homes. And that's where we feel that we're being disrespected and that we're being violated by these migrant crossers. But at the same time, there are two probably different groups of people that come through the border. You got the migrants that are coming, that looking for the American dream, and then you got those who are hauling drugs.

GREENE: So when we hear President Trump talking about the need to increase security and to stop migrants from crossing the border illegally because, the president argues, some of them are dangerous, some of them are bringing drugs into the United States - I mean, you share that concern?

JOSE: We share that concern, but a wall is not the answer.

GREENE: Why not?

JOSE: Facts will tell you that the majority of those things are coming through ports of entry. So that's why we believe that a border wall in or on the Tohono O'odham Nation is not the answer.

GREENE: We had a Republican congressman from Alabama, Gary Palmer, on our show recently. And he said, you know, even if this is not a route we're talking about that is used often by people who are dangerous, it only takes one person getting through to carry out a terrorist attack that could kill hundreds, even thousands, of people in the United States. I mean, can your tribal police, working with border agents, really do as much as a wall could do?

JOSE: I believe that working together, we can do more. Technology is a key. Right now, they're proposing the Integrated Fixed Towers. That's a virtual wall that's going to be out there that will be the eyes out there that a human eye can't see. And so that's why we believe that a wall would not work. Yes, one terrorist could come through there. But look at all the tragedies that happen in America. And I have not done any research on this in myself. But if you look at it, how many of those devastations that America has faced, with the shootings and so forth, are caused by people coming across the border? It's America killing America.

GREENE: Mr. Vice Chairman, thank you so much for your time.

JOSE: Thank you.

GREENE: Verlon Jose is vice chair of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.